As the charity that campaigns on behalf of the 1.3 million people who live with a condition, mark or scar that affects their appearance in the UK, we are launching a training scheme aimed at people working in customer services.
The launch, which coincides with National Customer Service Week, follows reports of negative experiences from customers, and aims to minimise embarrassing or uncomfortable exchanges in shops and restaurants.
Over 45% of people with a visible difference or disfigurement have had unpleasant experiences with retail staff; 30% have avoided going into a café or restaurant for fear of negative reactions; and 28% have decided against going into a shop for the same reason.
High street chain Specsavers has already implemented the training, with positive results, and the hope is that other UK retailers will follow suit.
Chief Executive of Changing Faces, Becky Hewitt, says: “An awkward or rude exchange in a shop or restaurant can have a deeply damaging effect on someone with a visible birthmark, scar or other facial disfigurement. Our report Disfigurement in the UK showed that poor customer service is all too common-place for people with disfigurements: almost half of our respondents had experienced difficult interactions with retail staff. This is backed up by countless anecdotal reports we hear of customer services staff not knowing how to react to someone with an unusual appearance. We want to help both staff and customer in that scenario.
“Specsavers worked with us to develop a series of training modules which their staff underwent. They reported very positive results. We are now extending our training offer to other UK retailers, and hope they will take us up on it. This is about diversity, and inclusion: we are all different. We want the people we support to know they can expect more when they walk into a shop. Nobody should put up with being laughed at or avoided.
“This week is National Customer Service week – what better time for the retail sector to show how inclusive they can be?”
Specsavers’ Learning and Development team worked closely with us to develop the modules, which can be undertaken by individuals anywhere and anytime. The three focal points are: an introduction to disfigurement; guidance on overcoming surprise; and appropriate language. The module also includes real-life case studies of people who have had distressing experiences in shops.
Dame Mary Perkins, co-founder of Specsavers, said: “Due to customer feedback, we realised that we had to improve our customer service when it came to serving people who look unusual or have a disfigurement. We are committed to delivering a high standard of customer care to everyone, without exception, and when we realised this was an area we could improve on, we were keen to work with Changing Faces.
“With their help, we developed a series of modules, which have been launched to over 700 stores and 10,000 store colleagues. Users tell us that they are now much more likely to consider their actions and language –73% say they now feel very comfortable about how to react when helping a customer with an unusual appearance. It’s normal to react to someone who looks different – what matters is how to manage that reaction.”